Let me start by declaring my interests as a lifelong NUT member and former Principal of a beacon sixth form college. I know from my own experience the cracking job sixth form colleges have done for nearly 50 years.
They’ve worked with their partner schools to give students an outstanding deal. Yet they now face some of the biggest challenges ever as Conservative government policy threatens their very existence. With 11-16 funding per student in schools at £5,553 and in academies at £5,969, why are sixth form college students funded at just £4,560 per student?
Whilst the Chancellor’s last minute decision not to further cut the core post-16 funding was welcome, sixth form colleges still receive 20% less funding than schools and academies. Despite the promise of no further cuts in cash terms for four years, there’ll still be an 8% cut in real terms over that period. So I’m pleased to support the NUT’s excellent Save Our Colleges campaign. It was good to see so many sixth form college teachers lobbying their MPs at Westminster last November.
MPs from across the parties, have consistently championed their own sixth form colleges because they know from personal experience that sixth form colleges do a great job for the local community. We need students, parents and staff to contact their local MPs and remind them of what’s at risk - sixth form education that matches anything else in the state or private sector and delivers the very best value for money. The Sixth Form Colleges Association says that 72% of sixth form colleges have already dropped courses and 81% have increased class sizes because of reduced funding.
Yet the Conservative government continues to waste public money on its own pet education projects with free schools here and UTCs there, whether or not the extra places is needed. The solution to the chaos it has created are area reviews that don’t look at the whole area. How can the post-16 education in an area be improved and give better value for money if provision in schools and academies is excluded from the review? It’s a nonsense!
Meanwhile, the area review process risks the future of sixth form colleges as mergers loom. The result for learners will be a narrower curriculum choice and less enrichment activities, with the likelihood of longer journeys to access learning. Politicians and civil servants sat in Whitehall just don’t understand how having to travel large distances in areas where transport is not always well connected can imperil access to learning. So I hope that the NUT’s campaign is successful in engaging with parents and students to get government to think again about its accidental attack on sixth form colleges.
The area review process should involve all institutions directly and tackle the real areas of under delivery. Sixth form colleges should enjoy the same exemptions to VAT that schools and academies do. Action should be taken to equalise the funding for 16-18 year olds to end the nonsense of these crucial years being so dreadfully underfunded compared to pre 16 and higher education – which just doesn’t make sense.